Finding magic on moonlight paddling trip on Wacissa River
September 11th, 2015 by Red Hills
by Doug Alderson, published 8/20/15, Tallahassee Democrat
A crimson western glow fades as the rising full moon casts an ethereal light upon the water. Bats whisk in and out of shadows. Cormorants and wading birds quietly roost on tree branches while awakening barred owls echo from the growing darkness. Choruses of frogs and insects emanate from unseen sloughs and clumps of water weeds. Nature’s symphony rises and lowers as if someone is playing with the volume. Leaping mullet slap the water as they land. Color fades as the world transforms into a silver on black panorama.
Perfect timing for a moonlight paddling trip.
People once believed, and some still do, that if one falls under the spell of the full moon’s unearthly light, he or she is a “lunatic,” derived from the Latin word “luna,” meaning moon. Many people today use this word in a different context and call people “loonies” for paddling down a river or across an open body of water at night. Little do they realize that being a “loony” is great fun, so long as a few precautions are taken before embarking.
In planning your trip, choose a clear, calm night with no threat of storms, high winds or dense fog. Look up the exact time for the moonrise and make sure it is rising over the horizon by the time you embark. Otherwise, you may be in for an hour or more of darkness. Always bring a flashlight and headlamp, just in case.
Calm lakes and protected bays and estuaries work well for a moonlight trip. If choosing a river, select one with a wide flow such as the lower St. Marks, Wakulla or upper Wacissa, with no major side rivers or creeks branching from it. Scout ahead of time during daylight. The river should also be free of snags or rapids, and the take-out point should be easily spotted in low light conditions. If not dropping off a vehicle at a prearranged take-out point, plan to paddle against the current first if possible so you can float back during the second half of the trip when your arms might be getting tired.
For spotting night creatures, a good flashlight or headlight works well. It is advisable to tie a piece of red cellophane over the beam in order not to blind owls and other night creatures with sensitive eyes. If paddling on southern rivers or lakes, scan the shore with a flashlight for red alligator eyes. The farther apart the eyes, the bigger the gator!
Other practical items are bug repellent and a jacket if cool temperatures are forecast. Ensure that everyone wears their life jackets since water rescues at night can be more challenging. If traveling on a water body that might have boat traffic, place a battery operated running light on your canoe or kayak bow and, if paddling in a group, stay close together. If nervous about moonlight paddling, check with local outfitters or paddling clubs. They often plan moonlight excursions.
In your preparations, don’t forget the midnight snacks! Nothing is better than food in the great outdoors under a full moon. And remember to just have fun and let loose a little, maybe do a little howling. OwwwWoooo! That’s what being a lunatic is all about.
Doug Alderson is the author of several award-winning outdoor and travel books, including his latest, Wild Florida Adventures. To learn more, log onto www.dougalderson.net.